Designing Affirmative Action Policies under Uncertainty

Corinna Isabell Hertweck, Carlos Castillo, Michael Mathioudakis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


We study university admissions under a centralized system that uses grades and standardized test scores to match applicants to university programs. In the context of this system, we explore affirmative action policies that seek to narrow the gap between the admission rates of different socio-demographic groups while still accepting students with high scores. Since there is uncertainty about the score distribution of the students who will apply to each program, it is unclear what policy would have the desired effect on the admission rates of different groups. We address this challenge by using a predictive model trained on historical data to help optimize the parameters of such policies. We find that a learned predictive model does significantly better than relying on the ideal parameters for the last year. At the same time, we also find that a large pool of historical data yields similar results as our predictive approach for our data. Due to the more complex nature of the predictive approach, we conclude that a simpler approach should be preferred if enough data is available (e.g., long-standing, traditional university programs), but not for newer programs and other cases in which our predictive strategy can prove helpful.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of learning analytics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)121-137
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences
  • 113 Computer and information sciences
  • Algorithmic fairness
  • affirmative action
  • predictive analytics
  • GAP

Cite this